By Allan Muir
The San Jose Sharks returned home to the SAP Center Saturday night for their second chance to close out their series with the Los Angeles Kings.
This one didn't go any better than the first.
Los Angeles has now won the past two games, keeping alive their hopes of becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after going down 3-0.
At this point, you have to like their chances. This wasn't just a win. This was an act of aggravated revenge. After having sand kicked in their faces for the first three games, the Kings reinvented themselves as the bullies. They came out of the blocks with malicious purpose, forcing the Sharks back on their heels with a tenacious forecheck and then kept them off balance for the duration.
That first period set the tone for the game. It might also have changed the course of the series.
Recap | Box Score
Some observations from this statement-making win:
• I suggested after Game 4 that Jonathan Quick would need to craft a masterpiece if the Kings hoped to subdue the Sharks at home. Looks like I overestimated San Jose's killer instinct.
Quick wasn't tested at all in the first as L.A. outshot San Jose 18-6, and he almost made it through the second before Brent Burns finally forced a dramatic pad save on a late power play bid. He had to make a couple solid stops in the third when the game was already well in hand, but his teammates made life as easy as possible on him, blocking 16 shot attempts and consistently tying up or clearing out encroaching San Jose forwards.
Quick ended up with 30 stops on the night for his eighth career playoff shutout, but the bigger prize was his swagger. At this point it doesn't look as though the Kings will need a miracle to finish off these Sharks, but he's ready to deliver if they do.
• The lineup changes made by coach Darryl Sutter prior to Game 4 continued to pay dividends in Game 5. Dustin Brown turned in another strong performance on the top line, doing all the work that led to Kopitar's goal and racking up a 66.7 percent Corsi rating.
The revamped third line featuring Justin Williams alongside Jarret Stoll and Dwight King caused the Sharks fits with their fast, physical play. The trio was plus-33 in Corsi events for the evening, evidence of how effectively they hemmed the Sharks in their own zone.
• It's not just the Kings that the Sharks have to stare down on Monday night. It's their own history. This team has a well earned reputation for coming up small in the playoffs, and this series is starting to smell like another layer to that legacy of failure.
The game opened with the Sharks allowing 12 of the game's first 14 shots. It's hard to fathom how they could come out so completely unprepared to handle Los Angeles' opening push. Ultimately it was their inability to execute over 60 minutes that doomed them, but that first period malaise set the tone for the night. That's on coach Todd McLellan and his staff.
• There was talk before the series started that Alex Stalock might give San Jose its best chance to win the series. Now it looks like he's their only chance. The back-up relieved starter Antti Niemi 22 seconds into the middle frame after Jeff Carter extended L.A.'s lead to 3-0 and held the fort the rest of the way, turning aside all 22 shots he faced. The real story though wasn't the number--it was the way he arrived at it. After Niemi surrendered a pair of goals to soft positioning--both the first and third goals were misplays on his part--Stalock settled his teammates down with his confident, controlled performance. No telling if he could have weathered that early storm better than Niemi, but he'll get his chance to show what he can do on Monday. Bet the mortgage that he's your Game 6 starter.
• The Sharks only got seven shifts out of top defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic before a collision with Jarret Stoll sent him to the showers. Reports after the game suggested it was an upper-body injury, and McLellan said he didn't know yet if Vlasic would be available for Game 6.
If he's out, that's a loss the Sharks can't cover. Without him tonight, San Jose's D struggled to make anything happen in transition and turned their zone entries into a crapshoot. How bad was it? The rest of the blueline was a combined minus-27 in Corsi events without him. That's not exactly a viable path to success there.